North Korea Warns of Nuke Test, More Rocket Launches

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -

North Korea’s top governing body warned Thursday that the regime will conduct its third nuclear test in defiance of U.N. punishment, and made clear that its long-range rockets are designed to carry not only satellites but also warheads intended to strike the United States.

The National Defense Commission, headed by the country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, denounced Tuesday’s U.N. Security Council resolution condemning North Korea’s long-range rocket launch in December as a banned missile activity and expanding sanctions against the regime. The commission reaffirmed in its declaration that the launch was a peaceful bid to send a satellite into space, but also clearly indicated that the country’s rocket launches have a military purpose — to strike and attack the United States.

While experts say North Korea doesn’t have the capability to hit the U.S. with its missiles, recent tests and rhetoric indicate the country is working feverishly toward that goal.

The commission pledged to keep launching satellites and rockets and to conduct a nuclear test as part of a “new phase” of combat with the United States, which it blames for leading the U.N. bid to punish Pyongyang. It said a nuclear test was part of “upcoming” action but did not say exactly when or where it would take place.

“We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched by the DPRK one after another, and a nuclear test of higher level which will be carried out by it in the upcoming all-out action, a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century, will target … the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people,” the commission said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words, as it regards jungle law as the rule of its survival,” the commission said.

It was a rare declaration by the powerful commission once headed by late leader Kim Jong Il and now commanded by his son. The statement made clear Kim Jong Un’s commitment to continue developing the country’s nuclear and missile programs in defiance of the Security Council, even at risk of further international isolation.

North Korea’s allusion to a “higher-level” nuclear test most likely refers to a device made from highly enriched uranium, which is easier to miniaturize than the plutonium bombs it tested in 2006 and 2009, said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.

Experts say North Korean must conduct further tests of its atomic devices and master the technique for making them smaller before they can be mounted as nuclear warheads on long-range missiles.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Thursday that North Korea’s aggressive stance is unnecessary and warned against any further testing.

“North Korea’s statement is needlessly provocative, and a test would be a significant violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Further provocation would only increase Pyongyang’s isolation, and its continued focus on its nuclear and missile program is doing nothing to help the North Korean people.”

He said the recent U.N. resolution is a “strong message of the international community’s opposition to North Korean provocations, and these tightened sanctions will impede the growth of weapons-of-mass-destruction programs in North Korea, and the United States will be taking additional steps in that regard.”

Carney did not elaborate on what those steps might be.

South Korea’s top official on relations with the North said Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development is a “cataclysm for the Korean people” and poses a fundamental threat to regional and world peace.

“The North Korean behavior is very disappointing,” Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said in a lecture in Seoul, according to his office.